A Message from Israel: Day 3 – Learning About the Hostages and Supporting Their Families

Rabbi Sue Shankman and some WHC members are currently in Israel. They will be providing updates of what they are seeing and feeling on this visit to the Holy Land. Read other entries: ArrivalDay 2 | Day 4

Today, we traveled to Kibbutz Gezer, where we joined Congregation Birkat Shalom for services. Birkat Shalom serves as the Reform congregation for the area.

As at Or Hadash the evening before, the service included prayers for the hostages. We also remembered Vivian Silver, a tireless activist who had dedicated her life to working for peace and justice in Gaza and was tragically killed on October 7th (though her death was not confirmed until five weeks later).

We concluded with an opportunity to hear from Lee Siegel, whose brother Keith Siegel is still being held hostage and whose sister-in-law Aviva was released as part of the exchanges at the end of November. Lee and his wife Sheli shared Aviva’s story on her behalf. Aviva has been outspoken in sharing the stories of sexual abuse and violence committed against the female hostages and advocating fiercely on their behalf.

We stopped for lunch in Jaffa before meeting with a Christian-Arab-Palestinian-Israeli woman in her home. Over Turkish coffee and baklava, we talked about the impact of the October 7th attack on her community, many of whom are Israeli citizens who have family in Gaza. She was thrilled to have us visit as we were the first group she had hosted since October 7. She reflected on the role of women in Arab culture, the difficulties inherent in being a small minority within the minority, as well as the ways in which the educational system is a commentary and reflection on society.

That evening, we returned to Hostage Square for a moving Havdalah service with the Reform movement, and a number of us also attended the weekly rally for the hostages, sponsored by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. It was an incredibly poignant experience to witness and stand with the families of the hostages, their friends, and an entire country that is holding such deep pain. We could feel the anguish of their frustration as they urged the government to bring the hostages home now. I attended the rally with dear friends who go every single week. We heard from 40 of the families at the rally, and at one point, I turned to them and asked, how can you do this every week? I then answered my own question—how can you not? There was something comforting about standing in community with others who share that pain, who each have their stories and connections, who are outraged that we were marking the 134th day of captivity as the clock on the Square reminded us.

And yet, at the end, the entire crowd joined in singing Hatikvah. As Jews, we continue to hold onto that Hope: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, matir asurim — Blessed are You, O God, who frees the captive.